Six to eight shots. That's what the Eagles expect from Arizona's vertical passing game tonight as quarterback Carson Palmer gives his receivers a chance to break a defense down.
"You know it's coming, so you have to make sure you cover and play the ball, because Carson is going to put the ball up there and give his receivers an opportunity to make plays," safety Walter Thurmond said. "That's what they do, and they do it well. It comes down to coverage. You have to cover and you have to tackle well and you can't let their receivers get behind you."
As the Eagles get ready for tonight's major tussle against the 11-2 Cardinals, the idea of X-plays on defense has been the primary focus. The Eagles know the Cardinals run a complex route tree and they have tremendous precision and that all of their receivers -- from Larry Fitzgerald to Michael Floyd to John Brown to J.J. Nelson -- present challenges to the secondary. They know that Palmer stands in the pocket until the very last instant, not shying away from pressure or contact. He is going to get rid of the football and give his receivers a chance to make plays.
Take a closer look at the key Cardinals players that the Eagles will be matching up against this Sunday. View the full gallery here...
Fitzgerald, who does a lot of his damage out of the slot these days, and thus will likely see a lot of Malcolm Jenkins tonight, has destroyed the Eagles in his career. Fitzgerald has eye popping numbers in his seven games (including playoffs) against the Eagles: 47 receptions, 802 yards, 11 touchdowns. He's scored in every game against the Eagles. He's a first-ballot Hall of Fame receiver. He's a nightmare for this secondary.
"Larry is one of the best ever to play the game," Jenkins said. "He's big, he's fast, he runs great routes, uses his body well. He does everything. You hope there is some pressure up front and that Palmer gets rushed in the pocket. I don't think any single defensive back stops Larry Fitzgerald. It's a collective thing."
Fitzgerald is having a huge season, again, but he's coming into town looking to get into the end zone for the first time since November 1 and his total receiving yardage in the last three games is a modest 162 yards. Floyd has actually been the most productive receiver of late, with 100-plus yards in four of the last five Arizona games.
It's unlikely that coordinator Bill Davis will order up a bunch of blitzes in this game. He needs Fletcher Cox to win inside and he needs edge rushers Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham to win the individual battles and force the ball out of Palmer's hands.
And they have to play great coverage on the back end. It's critical to minimize the X-plays.
"We have to make them earn it," Thurmond said. "They are looking to hit you hard from the start of the game until the end. They want to score in a hurry. We can't let them do that."
- Nothing official yet, but it's unlikely that Arizona running back Andre Ellington (toe) is going to play. Rookie David Johnson, the third-string back and a strong example of why Arizona is 11-2. Johnson was a fourth-round draft pick from Northern Iowa who has 330 rushing yards and 26 catches for another 293 yards. Johnson is a stout 225-pound back who has four rushing touchdowns, four receiving scores and a kickoff return for a touchdown this season.
- Arizona has not turned the ball over in the last three games. Obviously, the Eagles have had a lot of success this year taking the football away, so something has to give tonight. "We kind of make it our way to force turnovers," linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "It's a big part of what we do. We know how important it is."
- Arizona is 4-0 in prime-time games this season.
- How much can Matt Barkley, the former Eagles quarterback, help Arizona prepare for tonight's game? This from AZCardinals.com: The Cardinals traded for Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley at the end of the preseason. Now that they are playing Philadelphia, the third-string Barkley provided help – although it isn't necessarily inside information.
"Not really as far as telling us what they do," Arians said. "But he executed their offense well."
That may be most crucial part in a week where the scout team's job was to prep the Cardinals' defense in the looks they will be seeing on Sunday night. After playing for Chip Kelly the past two seasons, Barkley was the perfect scout team QB for this game.
As for the other aspects of understanding the Eagles, quarterback Carson Palmer said Barkley can help "a little bit" but that the changes Philly has gone through since the beginning of September – when Barkley left – tempers his advice.
"There's some stuff with personnel he's helped us out with," Palmer said.